Raoul Schrott
(Austria, 1966)   
Raoul Schrott

Raoul Schrott (1966) is at home in many countries, languages and cultures. He is the prototype of the ‘poeta doctus’, a cunning Proteus with a large and variegated oeuvre encompassing volumes of poetry, novels, short stories and an essayistic output of considerable intellectual prowess. He is a man of undeniable courage, witness the title of his much-talked-about poetry compendium: Die Erfindung der Poesie / Gedichte der ersten viertausend Jahre (The Invention of Poetry / Poems from the First Four Thousand Years,1977). Witness also his translation and modern adaptation of the Babylonian-Assyrian Epic of Gilgamesh. His search for the roots of language has led him to ‘small languages’ such as Breton, Basque and Occitan.

Making tradition work for the present time is Schrott’s aim: ‘In fact, I look upon poetry as a millennia-old machine that determines our literary production far more than we do ourselves.’ Schrott’s seemingly traditional stanzas are highly structured by a network of rudimentary rhymes; his vocabulary is as rich as a painter’s palette, for instance in the description of pigments and tinctures in ‘Cefalù’. The absence of conventional punctuation marks is compensated by various subtle structural devices. In the poem ‘La Ziza’, for instance, the length and number of lines is crucial: rotated a quarter turn, this poem exactly represents the silhouette of this Arab-Norman castle with its nineteen battlements and three gates.
Time and space are always emphatically present as coordinates in Schrott’s work, sometimes as scenery of a Hollywood movie (Persone & Personaggi), often in descriptions of rough and barren landscapes in which an encouter with a rock goat is staged as a mythological event (‘Tropic of Capricorn’). Schrott’s characters are travellers, like the protagonist of his novella Die Wüste Lop Nor (The Lop Nor Desert), published in Dutch as De woestijn Lop Nor, who hopes to discover the secret of the singing desert sands. In this cosmos there is hardly any room for human relations, which from necessity have to play themselves out in hotel rooms; their unsatisfactory cursoriness is symbolized by a ‘crumpled condom on the floor’ – a permanent dilemma, which, as a subcutaneous field of tension, demonstrates the necessity of this poetry. ‘A good poem,’ says Schrott in an interview with Urs Engeler, ‘succeeds in forging a link between emotion and intellect, the irrational and the rational, the humane and the inhumane. It forges, if all goes well, the disparate into unity. And this forging is by definition ideal, symbolic, irreal, metaphysical.’

© Ard Posthuma (Translated by Ko Kooman)

[Raoul Schrott took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2003. This text was written on that occasion.]

Raoul Schrott on Lyrikline


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